General English

General Science

  • noun a yellow translucent substance that is the fossilised resin of conifers. It sometimes contains fossilised insects.


  • A fossilized tree resin which readily accumulates static charge by friction. This property has been known since ancient times. It is also a very good electrical insulator.

Origin & History of “amber”

Amber was borrowed, via Old French, from Arabic ‘anbar, which originally meant ‘ambergris’ (and in fact until the early 18th century amber was used for ‘ambergris’ too). A perceived resemblance between the two substances had already led in Arabic to ‘amber’ ousting ‘ambergris’ as the main meaning of ‘anbar, and this was reflected as soon as English acquired it.

In Scotland until as recently as the early 19th century lamber was the usual form. This arose from borrowing the French word for ‘amber’ complete with its definite article le: l’ambre.

Before the introduction of the Arabic term into European languages, the ancestor of modern English glass appears to have been the word used for ‘amber’.